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Emergence and Consequences of Division of Labor in Associations of Normally Solitary Sweat Bees


C. Tate Holbrook, School of Life Sciences and Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4601, USA. E-mail:


Division of labor is a pervasive feature of animal societies, but little is known about the causes or consequences of division of labor in non-eusocial cooperative groups. We tested whether division of labor self-organizes in an incipient social system: artificially induced nesting associations of the normally solitary sweat bee Lasioglossum (Ctenonomia) NDA-1 (Hymenoptera: Halictidae). We quantified task performance and construction output by females nesting either alone or with a conspecific. Within pairs, a division of labor repeatedly arose in which one individual specialized on excavation and pushing/tamping while her nestmate guarded the nest entrance. Task specialization could not be attributed to variation in overall activity, and the degree of behavioral differentiation was greater than would be expected due to random variation, indicating that division of labor was an emergent phenomenon generated in part by social dynamics. Excavation specialists did not incur a survival cost, in contrast to previous findings for ant foundress associations. Paired individuals performed more per capita guarding, and pairs collectively excavated deeper nests than single bees – potential early advantages of social nesting in halictine bees.